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Chapter 1 

Speech Given to the Annual Public 
Meeting of the Academy of Moral and 
Political Sciences on April 3,1852' 

Alexis de Tocqueville, President of the Academy 


The academy in whose name I have the honor of speaking today has been 
exposed from birth to strange judgments; her very reason for being has been 
contested. It is willingly admitted that the actions of the private man ought to be 
subject to a permanent rule, and that morality is a science. But is it the same for 
those collections of men one calls societies? Is there a science of politics? It has 
hitherto been denied, and, oddly enough, it has generally been political men, that 
is to say, the very ones who ought naturally to practice this science, who have 
taken such liberties with it. They have sometimes permitted themselves to call it 
chimerical or at least vain. 

There is something rather puerile, they have said, in imagining that there is 
a particular art that teaches one to govern. The field of politics is too varied and 
volatile to permit one to place there the foundations of a science. The facts 2 that 
would constitute its matter never have anything but a false and deceptive resem¬ 
blance to one another. The epoch in which they take place, the condition of the 
peoples in which one observes them, the character of the men who produce them 
or who submit to them renders them so profoundly dissimilar that it can only be 
useful to consider each of them separately. The prince who tried to govern his 
people with the aid of theories and maxims formed 3 while studying philosophy 
and history would turn out very poorly; it is to be believed that simple good 
sense would have been of greater use to him. 



Alexis de Tocqueville 

Such is the rather condescending language I have sometimes heard used by 
political men regarding the sciences whose subject is politics and regarding 
those who cultivate them. 

I have always found them to be greatly in the wrong. 4 

There are two parts of politics that must not be confused, one fixed and the 
other in motion. 

The first, founded on the very nature of man, on his interests, on his facul¬ 
ties, on his needs as revealed by philosophy and history, on his instincts, which 
change their objects according to the times without changing their nature, and 
which are as immortal as his race; the first, I say, teaches us what laws are best 
adapted to the general and permanent condition of humanity. 

All this is the science. 

And then there is a practical and militant politics that struggles against the 
difficulties of each day, adapting to the variety of incidents, providing for the 
passing needs of the moment, and calling to its aid the ephemeral passions of 

This is the art of government. 

The art assuredly differs from the science, practice is often removed from 
theory, I do not deny it; I would go even farther, if desired, and make this con¬ 
cession, admitting that, in my judgment, to excel at one is no reason at all to 
succeed in the other. I do not know, gentlemen, whether, in a country that has 
counted among its great publicists and its great writers so many eminent states¬ 
men, it is even permitted to say that to make fine books, even on politics or 
things connected to it, prepares one quite poorly for the government of men and 
the management of affairs. I permit myself, however, to believe and to think that 
these eminent writers who showed themselves to be at the same time statesmen 
have shone in affairs not because they were illustrious authors, but despite being 

Indeed, the art of writing suggests, to those who have practiced it for a long 
time, habits of mind hardly favorable to the conduct of affairs. It enslaves them 
to the logic of ideas, when the crowd never obeys any logic save that of the pas¬ 
sions. It gives them the taste for the fine, the delicate, the ingenious, the original, 
when it is coarse commonplaces that lead the world. 

Even the study of history, which often enlightens the field of present facts, 
sometimes obscures it. How many men would one not encounter among us who, 
with minds surrounded by a learned darkness, saw 1640 in 1789 and 1688 in 
1830, 5 and, always behind by one revolution, wanted to apply to the second the 
remedy for the first, like those medical doctors who, completely up to date on 
previous maladies of the human body, but always ignorant of the particular and 
new ill from which their patient suffers, hardly fail to kill him with erudition! I 
have sometimes heard it regretted that Montesquieu lived in a time when he 
could not experiment with the politics whose science he advanced so much. .1 
have always found much indiscretion in these regrets; perhaps the rather subtle 
finesse of his mind would often have made him miss in practice precisely that 
point by which the success of affairs is decided; he might well have been able to 

Speech Given to the Academy 


succeed at becoming the rarest of publicists, while being a rather poor minister, 
a thing that is very common. 

We recognize therefore, gentlemen, that political science and the art of go¬ 
verning are two very distinct things. But docs it follow that political science 
docs not exist or that it is vain? 

If I seek for what prevents certain minds from perceiving this science, I find 
that it is its very grandeur. The science that treats of the conduct of societies 
covers, indeed, an immense space extending from philosophy to the elementary 
studies of civil justice. Being almost without limits, it forms but a single object 
to the view. One confuses it with all the knowledge connected directly or indi¬ 
rectly to man. and in this immensity one loses sight of it. 

But when wc apply ourselves to the attentive consideration of this great 
science, when we remove whatever touches it without adhering to it, then the 
diverse parts that really compose it appear, and we finish by forming (seJaire) a 
clear idea of the whole. Wc then sec that this science descends by degrees from 
the general to the particular, and from pure theory to written laws and to facts. 

For those who consider it in this way, the authors who arc famous for culti¬ 
vating it cease to form a confused crowd; they are divided into very distinct 
groups each of which can be examined separately. Some, with the aid of detailed 
accounts of history, or the abstract study of man, seek out the natural rights be¬ 
longing to the body social and the rights exercised by the individual, what laws 
best fit societies according to the forms these have received from birth or 
adopted, and what systems of government arc applicable according to the case, 
the place, the time. These are the publicists: Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli. Mon¬ 
tesquieu, Rousseau, to cite but a few brilliant names. 

Others attempt the same labor with respect to that society of nations of 
which each people is a citizen, a society that is always rather barbarous, even in 
the most civilized centuries, whatever effort is made to soften and regulate the 
relations of those who compose it. They discover and indicate what international 
law is, beyond particular treaties. This is the work of Grotius and Pufendorf. 

Others still, while preserving the general and theoretical character of politi¬ 
cal science, confine themselves to a single part of the vast subject they embrace: 
this is Beccaria establishing what die rules of criminal justice ought to be among 
all peoples; this is Adam Smith attempting to find the foundation of the wealth 
of nations. 

Thus we arrive, always constricting our sphere, at the jurists and great 
commentators: Cujas, Domal, Pothicr, and all those who interpret and clarify 
existing institutions, treaties, constitutions, and laws. 

To the extent that we have descended from ideas to facts, the field of politi¬ 
cal science narrows and becomes firmer; but it is always the same science. One 
can be convinced of this if one compares all the authors who occupied them¬ 
selves with the different matters we have just indicated, and if one remarks that, 
however far they seem to be from one another, they nonetheless lend one anoth¬ 
er a hand and aid one another constantly. There is not a commentator who has 


Alexis de Tocqueville 

nol often supported himself on the abstract and general truths that the publicists 
have found, and the latter constantly need to found their theory on the particular 
facts and the institutions of our experience that the commentators have revealed 
or described. 

But I am astonished, gentlemen, to have to demonstrate the existence of the 
political sciences in a country where their power shines forth in every direction. 
You deny the political sciences and what they arc capable of doing? Look 
around you: see these monuments, see these mins! Who raised the former, who 
made (a fait) the latter? Who has changed the face of the world of our day to the 
point that, if your grandfather could be bom again, he would recognize neither 
the laws, nor the mores, nor the ideas, nor the customs, nor the usages that he 
knew; and hardly the language that he spoke? Who, in a word, has produced this 
French Revolution, the greatest event in history? I say the greatest and not the 
most useful, lor this revolution still endures, and I await its last effect in order to 
characterize it with such a word; but finally, who has produced it? Was it the 
political men of the eighteenth century, the princes, the ministers, the great 
lords? We need neither bless nor curse them; we must instead pity them, for they 
have almost always done other than they wanted to do, and finished by achiev¬ 
ing a result they detested. The great artisans of this fearsome revolution were 
precisely the only men of those limes who had never taken the least part in pub¬ 
lic affairs. It was authors of whom no one is ignorant, it was the most abstract 
science that deposited in the spirit of our fathers those seeds of novelties from 
which sprouted suddenly so many political institutions and civil laws unknown 
to their ancestors. 

And note that whatever the political sciences have done here with such irre¬ 
sistible power and such marvelous brilliance, they do everywhere and always, 
though more secretly and slowly; among all civilized peoples, the political 
sciences give birth to, or at least form 6 , those general ideas from which then 
emerge the particular facts in whose midst men of politics busy themselves, and 
the laws they believe they invent; these ideas form around each society some¬ 
thing like a sort of intellectual atmosphere breathed by the spirit of both go¬ 
verned and governors, and from which the former as well as the latter draw, 
often without knowing it, sometimes without wanting it, the principles of their 
conduct. Barbarians arc the only ones who recognize in politics nothing but 

Our Academy, gentlemen, has for her mission the furnishing to these 
sciences, so necessary and so fearsome, of a hearth and a rule. 7 She ought to 
cultivate them in full liberty, but never to depart from them, reminding herself 
always that she is a learned society, and not a political body. The dignity of her 
labors depends on it. 

This is anyhow what she has always done, and one asks nothing of her now 
but that she remain in agreement with herself. Always the Academy has taken 
care to hold herself at a distance from parties, in that serene region of pure 
theory and abstract science. Not only has she enclosed herself there, but she has 
made a constant effort to attract and retain there those spirits whom the passions 

Speech Given to the Academy 


of the moment and the clamor of affairs would constantly have distracted. The 
subjects she has proposed for her contests attest to this, and the contest itself that 
we are going to judge today succeeds in proving it. 

The first question she proposed was this: “Compare the moral and political 
philosophy of Plato and Aristotle with the doctrines of the greatest modern phi¬ 
losophers on the same matters. Appraise what is temporary and false, and what 
is true and immortal in these different systems.” 

The path thus opened is immense; it contains almost the entire history of the 
moral and political sciences; now, of all the sciences, it is these with which the 
human spirit is most immediately and most constantly occupied. A study so old 
and so sustained must have produced an almost infinite number of different no¬ 
tions and diverse systems. To summarize this immense labor of the intelligence 
and to judge it seems a work that not only surpasses the limits of an article, but 
also those of a book. Indeed, the enterprise is difficult; yet it is not impractica¬ 

There is this great difference, among many others, between the physical 
sciences and the moral sciences: that the field of the first is almost without 
boundaries, since it has no boundaries save those of nature, while the latter 
sciences are contained within the study of a single subject, man; and as much as 
this unique object changes a great deal in aspect according to the individual and 
the times, and while the half-darkness that always surrounds it also lends itself 
to all sorts of illusions and errors, nonetheless the number of mother-ideas these 
sciences have produced is not as great as one might think, considering all those 
who have been occupied with them. 

It is incredible how often moral and political systems have been successive¬ 
ly found, forgotten, found again, forgotten once more only to reappear a little 
later, always charming or surprising the world as if they were new, attesting to 
the ignorance of men, and not to the fecundity of the human spirit. 

Perhaps it is permissible to apply to the moral and political sciences what 
Mme de Sevigne said so agreeably of love, that “// est un grand recommen¬ 
ces .” 8 Indeed, it often happens that they repeat what they had already said in 
another manner. They offer a small number of truths that are not very old, and 
few errors that do not appear decrepit if one knows the date of their birth. Thus 
these makers of social theories whom we see in our day, and who seem to us, 
with reason, to be so dangerous, would appear all the more boring had we more 
erudition and more memory. 

It is therefore possible, in studying the most illustrious authors that have 
treated of the moral and political sciences in different centuries, to find out what 
are in these matters the principal ideas that have had currency among human¬ 
kind, to reduce them into a rather small number of systems, and then to compare 
them to each other and judge them. In any case, the difficulty of this task ap¬ 
pears to have frightened the spirit of the contestants. One alone has presented 
himself: his work has attracted the serious attention of the Academy, and merits 
it; nonetheless he has not been able to induce her to award the prize this year. 


Alexis de Tocqueville 

She hopes that new contestants will present themselves, and above all that the 
author of the only article that has been entrusted to her can himself perfect the 
already remarkable work he has submitted. She therefore remits the question to 
the competition of 1853. All those who cultivate these noble studies whose ob¬ 
ject is man and society shall doubtlessly think, the Academy hopes, that if there 
are few subjects as difficult to treat as that which she has proposed, there is none 
more grand and more beautiful. 

The section on legislation has likewise posed this question: “What are, from 
the juridical and philosophic points of view, the reforms to which our civil pro¬ 
cedure is open?” 

You see here, gentlemen, that the horizon is contracting. This latter subject 
is as particular as the former was general. It is concerned not with the man, but 
with the litigant. 

Procedure, we must recall, is not in high honor with the public; we often 
permit ourselves to confuse it with chicanery. It would be better nonetheless 
were it revered, and we are wrong to judge it by the abuses made of it; for with¬ 
out procedure the judge and the litigant act without rule in all that precedes and 
follows judgment, and the domain of law remains, in the best case, an empire of 
the arbitrary. Now, arbitrary justice is the very stamp of barbarism; thus civi¬ 
lized peoples have always attached a great importance to the rules of procedure. 

Free peoples, above all, have always been great proceduralists; they have 
drawn in good part from forms for the defense of their liberty, and one has seen 
them oppose power more advantageously with the thousand little formalities 
procedure furnishes than with the general rights guaranteed by the constitution, 
just as it often happens that neighbors of the sea succeed better at preventing its 
ravages by sowing reeds upon its banks, with whose aid they divide and slow 
down its surges, than by raising high dikes to contain it. This part of the laws, so 
important, has nonetheless remained the most imperfect. 

Those innovators who, for the last sixty years, have transformed everything 
in France, have, despite their longings, hardly modified the laws relative to the 
administration of civil justice. Napoleon himself ran aground here. All efforts 
combined have ended only by changing the position, but not the nature, of the 
laws. We have done nothing with the ordinances of our ancient kings but trans¬ 
port them into our codes. Thus I have always thought it a slight exaggeration to 
say that among us nothing is free from revolutions, since civil procedure has 
been; it is to be believed that it will retain this rare privilege until some great 
writer does for it what Filangieri and Beccaria did for criminal procedure, draw¬ 
ing it from the dust and the obscurity of the studies and the court offices, expos¬ 
ing it to the light of day, and succeeding at removing it from the prejudiced in¬ 
terests of practice and submitting it to the general notions of philosophy and 
good sense. 

This is what the Academy has tried to do in posing the questions indicated, 
and ten contestants have responded to her appeal. 

Three articles have merited her praise; the goal has been approached, but it 
has not yet been reached, and the Academy judges, by the articles that have been 

Speech Given to the Academy 


transmitted to her, by the importance of the subject, and by the hope that one 
must conceive of the utility of the labors she has provoked, that it is best to remit 
the question to the contest of 1853. 

Three prizes were proposed for this year. The Academy regrets that she 
must refuse the first two. She is pleased to be able to award the third. 

This prize has been obtained by M. Bodin, doctor of law, advocate for the 
Paris Court of Appeal. The question that prompted M. Bodin’s article, or rather 
his book—for the work of which we will speak has the extent and the merit of a 
great treatise on its subject—was this: “Seek the origin of judicial order 9 in 
France, tracing its history and shedding light upon the principles of its current 

All peoples, gentlemen, ought to be interested in the history and the consti¬ 
tution of justice; for the judicial power is possibly, all things considered, the one 
with the most influence on the daily conditions of each citizen. 

But do we not have, as Frenchmen, particular reasons to inquire into what 
justice has been among us? When I seek for the two classes of men who have 
most contributed to forming the traits of our national character, I find that they 
are writers and magistrates. 

The first have given to the French spirit that temperament at once vigorous 
and delicate that we see in ourselves, that nature so curious, audacious, restive, 
often factious and always intractable, which acts incessantly in Europe and in 
our own midst. The second have bequeathed to us judicial mores, a certain re¬ 
spect for individual independence, and a persevering taste for forms and judicial 
guarantees, which we follow even in the midst of the disorders of revolutions 
and the indifference that succeeds them. 

To make a history of literature and justice in France is to seek the origins of 

M. Bodin has acquitted himself very remarkably of this task in all that con¬ 
cerns justice. He traces for us the vicissitudes of judicial order in France from 
the Romans to our day. The details, perhaps a bit numerous, which fill this vast 
tableau, do not in any case impede us from grasping the ensemble, and the gen¬ 
eral view here is imposing. The historical part of this article is therefore very 
worthy of our praise. The philosophical portion of the work is not equal to the 
other and harms it slightly. It is much easier indeed to describe well than to 
judge well. The Academy would also have liked to find more brilliance in the 
thought and more color in the style. It seems that the author is a better draftsman 
than grand painter. But his work remains nonetheless a noble (beau) one that 
gives honor as much to the one who produced it as to the learned body that in¬ 
spired it. 

After having judged the articles that competed in 1851, the Academy has 
had to occupy herself with choosing new subjects. Two are indicated by her this 
year. The first has been furnished by the section on philosophy: it concerns one 
of the most mysterious phenomena that can be presented by this being so full of 
mysteries that one calls man. 


Alexis de Tocqueville 

What is sleep? What essential difference is there between dreaming and think¬ 
ing? Does artificial sleepwalking, which so to speak is nothing but the perfec¬ 
tion or utilization of dreaming, exist? What is this singular state during which 
several faculties of the human spirit seem rather enlarged than restrained, save 
the first of them all: the will, which here remains blind or subordinated? Can 
one account for these phenomena according to the rules of a sound philosophi¬ 
cal method? 

The second question posed this year interests at once the family and society. 
The Academy asks us to examine from a moral and economic point of view the 
best regime to which marriage contracts can be submitted. 

You know, gentlemen, that M. le Baron Felix de Beaujour has established a 
quinquennial prize for the author of the best book on the relief of poverty. 

The book that the Academy demands of contestants this year is a manual of 
morals and political economy for the use of the working classes. 

All times have seen laborers and the poor; but what seems peculiar to our 
own is the opinion, so widespread in our day, that there exists somewhere a re¬ 
medy for this hereditary and incurable sickness of poverty and labor, and that 
with a little good will governors might easily succeed at discovering it. We are 
prepared to accord to each power that is born a reasonable time to find and apply 
this new medicine, and, if it fails, we are ever ready to chase this practitioner out 
and call upon another doctor. Experiments follow and generations succeed one 
another without this error dissipating, and we have come to believe that the same 
chimera will always traverse the same ruins. 

The Academy, in posing the question I am going to announce, has had for 
her end the combating of this false idea from which evils flow. She desires, to 
this effect, that the contestants apply themselves to spreading among the work¬ 
ing classes to whom they address themselves some of the most elementary and 
certain notions of political economy; that they make it well understood, for ex¬ 
ample, that there is something permanent and necessary in the economic laws 
that govern the rates of wages; why these laws, being in some sense of divine 
right, since they emerge from the nature of man and the very structure of socie¬ 
ty, are placed beyond the reach of revolutions; and that the government cannot 
make wages rise when the demand for labor diminishes, just as no one can pre¬ 
vent water from spilling over the rim of a leaning glass. 

But what the Academy desires above all is that the different authors she 
provokes set in light this truth: that the principle remedy of poverty is found in 
the poor man himself, in his activity, his frugality, his forward-thinking; in the 
good and intelligent employment of his faculties, far more than those of others; 
and finally that, if man owes his well-being somewhat to the laws, he owes it far 
more to himself; moreover, one could say that to himself alone is he beholden, 
for as much as the citizen is worth, so much is the law worth. 

Is it not strange, gentlemen, that a truth so simple and so clear has cease¬ 
lessly needed to be restored, and that it seems so obscure in our times and 
among our lights? Alas! It is easy to say the cause: mathematical truths for their 

Speech Given to the Academy 


demonstration require only observations and facts; but to grasp and believe mor¬ 
al truths it is necessary to have [good] mores. 

The Academy asks of its contestants not a treatise but a manual, which is to 
say that she invites them to make a work that is short, practical, and within the 
reach of all; in fine, one which is written for the people, yet without the pretense 
of reproducing the language of the people, a kind of affectation contrary to any 
diffusion of the truth among the inferior classes that could be sought by a noble 
( bel ) spirit. The importance that she attaches to this little book is manifested by 
the prize of ten thousand francs she promises to him who shall be its author. But 
she announces in advance that she will award this prize only if there emerges 
from the contest a work that is remarkable and suited to fulfill the need she has 

I stop here, gentlemen; it is time to cede the floor to the permanent secre¬ 
tary, who is going to speak to us of one of our colleagues whose loss we regret 
and whose memory we venerate, M. Droz. To praise his writings and retrace his 
actions is neither to emerge from the circle of our studies nor to fail in our grand 
mission; for honesty shows itself better by example than by precept, and the best 
course in morals—and I beg the pardon of my colleagues in the section on phi¬ 
losophy—shall always be the life of a good man retraced by a historian who 
understands and makes known the love of virtue. 


Our Academy, gentlemen, has this for her mission: to be the hearth and regula¬ 
tor of these necessary and fearsome sciences; this is her glory, but it is also her 

Governments are generally indifferent enough to what happens in the bo¬ 
som of academies, and even, in ordinary times, in the world of ideas. When we 
are occupied with nothing but literature, philosophy, science, and even with reli¬ 
gion, they willingly believe that these do not touch on anything else. But as soon 
as we speak of politics in any of its parts, they become very attentive. They im¬ 
agine that we do not act upon politics except when we speak about it. Yet do not 
believe, gentlemen, that this is merely the failing of those petty souls who gen¬ 
erally lead human affairs. The most noble (beaux) geniuses have fallen here. 
There are philosophic or religious opinions that have changed the face of em¬ 
pires and that were bom beside the greatest men without their having taken any 
notice. It is to be believed that if these same princes had heard their subjects 
discussing a question of communal roads they would have been all eyes and 

An academy of moral and political sciences is therefore not, it is necessary 
to recognize, equally appropriate to every country and to every time. Her place 
is hardly anywhere but in free countries and places where the discussion of eve- 


Alexis de Tocqueville 

rything is permitted. These are conditions of existence with which we are hon¬ 
ored, gentlemen; let us not contest them. 

The ancien regime, which treated the moral and political sciences like an 
ingenious and respectable occupation of the human spirit, never permitted those 
who cultivated them to unite in an academy. The revolutionary dictatorship, 
which of all dictatorships is the greatest enemy of liberty, stifled these sciences, 
and, as the sole efficacious means of preventing writings treating of them, sup¬ 
pressed as much as possible their authors: almost all that remained of the old 
eighteenth century school, Bailly, Condorcet, Malesherbes, perished by its 
hands. One may believe that the same fate would have befallen Montesquieu, 
Voltaire, Turgot, and Rousseau himself, had they then lived. Happily for them, 
they were dead before they could see the frightening times for which one holds 
them responsible. But scarcely had the Terror ceased when the moral and politi¬ 
cal sciences immediately returned to great honor, and were, it must be said, the 
object of an unjust preference: for in the creation of the Institute which then took 
place, a separate division was made for them, while one was refused to belles- 
lettres: strange ingratitude of a generation that literature had nourished and con¬ 
ducted into power! 

The revolution continued on its course, but liberty soon returned to the rear, 
for revolution and liberty arc two words it is necessary to hold carefully apart in 
history. The First Consul—who personified and continued the French Revolu¬ 
tion in his own manner, but who was nothing less than the greatest adversary 
liberty has yet encountered in the world—this First Consul did not delay in cast¬ 
ing a very evil eye upon (he Academy, or, as it was (hen called, the Division of 
Moral and Political Sciences. The Academy was then composed, it is true, al¬ 
most exclusively of political men who had played various roles in the preceding 
events. One counted there Cabanis. Daunou, Merlin de Douai, Dupont de Ne¬ 
mours, Cessac, Roederer, Sieyfcs, Talleyrand, l-ebrun (later Duke of Plaisance), 
and Dcslutl-Traccy. She had for a foreign associate the illustrious Jefferson, then 
president of the United States of America, which was no great title of recom¬ 
mendation with the First Magistrate of the Republic of France. Yet despite being 
composed of famous persons, she tended only to make herself forgotten; seeing 
the spirit of her master, which was no longer contained by the spirit of the limes, 
she withdrew voluntarily into the obscurity of her own sphere; one sees this well 
in perusing her final works. 

In philosophic history, she was occupied with the government of France 
under the first two dynasties; this did not seem bound to compromise her. None¬ 
theless, for more innocence yet, she believed it necessary to go back even to the 
Pharaohs; one finds her employing her last meetings to listen to M. de Volncy, 
who, according to the minutes, was charged with sharing interesting information 
about the tunics of Egyptian mummies. 

In morals, M. Dupont de Nemours read his articles on instinct, which, being 
common to beast and man, could hardly disquiet the government. 

In political economy, the Academy w r as occupied with the daily growth and 
diminution of the Seine. 

Speech Given lo the Academy 


And in politics properly so-called, she was occupied with nothing. 

The public treated the Academy a bit like it treated itself: she no longer at¬ 
tracted serious ideas from outside or acted upon them within her own bosom. 
One sees nothing in her final minutes other than the title of a single work of 
some length to which she paid homage: Course on Morals for the Use of Young 
Ladies, by Citizen A1 marie. 

None of this could appear fearsome, and yet the First Consul became preoc¬ 
cupied with her. The Academy had rendered herself very small, but the eye of 
Napoleon perceived her despite the darkness into which she had cast herself. 

When Napoleon had effaced the last vestiges of public liberty—or, as he pul 
it, abolished government by lawyers—he wanted to close the last asylum of free 
thinkers—or ideologues as he called them, forgetting that without these ideolo¬ 
gues, who had prepared the ruin of the ancien regime, and without these lawyers 
who had consummated its ruin, he would never have become the master of 
France and of Europe, but would doubtless have remained, despite his genius, an 
obscure and petty gentleman, lost in the thousand inferior ranks of the hierarchy 
they had destroyed. 

1 have searched very attentively in many diverse documents, and notably in 
the administrative documents deposited in the national archives, seeking just 
how this destruction of the division on moral and political sciences took place; I 
have found nothing worthy of consideration. By reading these documents one 
sees only that it is not in parliamentary governments alone that those who lead 
affairs give themselves the trouble of hiding their true thoughts in a multiplicity 
of words. However all-powerful they proclaim themselves to be, despotic gov¬ 
ernments dispense no more than others with this ruse. They condescend at other 
times to the use of deception. In the report of the minister of the interior, Chap- 
tal, the report preceding the decree, a copy of which I found corrected by the 
hand of the minister himself, not a single word is said on the reasons for sup¬ 
pressing the Division of Moral and Political Sciences. No critique, no insinua¬ 
tions against her: it is not even said that she is being suppressed; all that is con¬ 
templated is the reform of the Institute in accordance with a better plan and the 
introduction within her of a division of labor more favorable to die interests of 
letters and of the sciences. In reading the considerations behind this decree, it 
seems that no thought has even been given to us. In reading the decree itself, one 
perceives that we no longer exist, and that we have been killed gently through 

I have searched very attentively in many diverse documents, and notably in 
the administrative documents deposited in the national archives, seeking just 
how this destruction of the division on moral and political sciences look place; I 
have found nothing worthy of consideration. By reading these documents one 
sees only that it is not in parliamentary governments alone that those who lead 
affairs give themselves the trouble of hiding their true thoughts in a multiplicity 
of words. However all-powerful they proclaim themselves to be, despotic gov¬ 
ernments dispense no more than others with this ruse. They condescend at other 
limes to the use of deception. In the report of the minister of the interior, Chap- 
tal, the report preceding the decree, a copy of which 1 found corrected by the 
hand of the minister himself, not a single word is said on the reasons for sup¬ 
pressing the Division of Moral and Political Sciences. No critique, no insinua¬ 
tions against her; it is not even said that she is being suppressed; all that is con¬ 
templated is the reform of the Institute in accordance with a better plan and the 
introduction within her of a division of labor more favorable to the interests of 
letters and of the sciences. In reading the considerations behind this decree, it 
seems that no thought has even been given to us. In reading the decree itself, one 
perceives that we no longer exist, and that we have been killed gently through 

Likewise, one secs in the report that the original idea of the minister was, 
purely and simply, to return to the old academic organization, not only as to 
things, but also as to names; in one word, to do in 1803 what Louis XVIII did in 
1816: to re-fasten the chains of time, as he himself later said. The First Consul 
accepted the thing, but rejected the words. M. de Fontanes, who remained very 
much in love with the past, and who was, to use the modem jargon, a great reac¬ 
tionary, pressed him to give again to these sections the name Academy; we are 

28 Alexis de Tocqueville 

assured that he responded to him, “No! Not the Academy! That would be too 

Thus ended the Division of Moral and Political Sciences. She was buried, 
like all other public liberties, wrapped in the flag of Marengo. At least it was a 
glorious shroud. 

One does not see her reborn until the French once again become free. 

Even in the most favorable times, the Academy is placed between two reefs. 
She must equally fear going beyond her sphere and remaining inactive within it. 

We ought never to forget, gentlemen, that we are a learned society and not a 
political body: the security and the dignity of our labors depend upon it. 

This line of demarcation between theory and practice is, one must admit, 
easier to trace than to hold. A question that at first glance seems purely theoreti¬ 
cal can, in response to the passions of the moment, turn easily into a question of 
facts and an instrument of parties; for we are a reasoning and noble-spirited (bel 
esprit) people among whom one willingly makes the most subtle theories serve 
for the satisfaction of the most coarse appetites, and often wraps rather villain¬ 
ous actions in the most noble (beaux) words. There are political matters that 
naturally pertain to practice and others that are occasionally drawn toward it; the 
Academy has known how to avoid, with a reserve that does her honor, both the 
one and the other. She has held firm to the sphere of theory. She has done more: 
she has striven to draw spirits there; if she has not always succeeded, there is no 
need to be astonished. 

One might believe that in a time when all men take part in governing, the 
abstract science of government will be cultivated most and best. The contrary 
would be closer to the truth. The greatest publicists who have appeared in the 
world have preceded or followed ages of public liberty. Aristotle wrote of the 
republic from the court of Alexander; The Spirit of the Laws and The Social 
Contract were composed under absolute monarchy. These books have made 
(fait) us what we are, but we would probably be incapable of making them to¬ 
day. Facts incessantly depart from ideas and practice from science, and politics 
ends by being nothing but a game of chance: one in which the dice are loaded. 

It is with the end of attracting toward speculative politics those spirits who 
would be distracted by the clamor of parties and the care of affairs that the 
Academy has established contests and distributed annual prizes to those writers 
who distinguish themselves therein. To judge these contests, and distribute these 
prizes, is the object that has united us today. 


1. Previously published, in a translation by J. P. Mayer, as “The Art & Science of 
Politics: An Unpublished Speech,” in Encounter 36:1 (January, 1971). The present trans¬ 
lation is based on the speech proper as presented in the first volume of Tocqueville’s 
Oeuvres, Edition Pleade, A. Jardin (Paris: Gallimard, 1991), 1215-1226; and on the Ap¬ 
pendix included in volume IX of Gustave de Beaumont’s edition of Tocqueville’s Oeu- 

Speech Given to the Academy 


vres (Paris: Michel-Levy Freres, 1866), 643-647. I have striven to render Tocqueville’s 
French as literally as possible while employing English that is grammatically correct and 
stylistically tolerable. Brian Danoff and Elena Hebert assisted me in improving this trans¬ 
lation; any remaining deficiencies are mine. 

2. Here and throughout the text, “fact” translates the French “fait," which can mean 
either “fact” or “act.” The latter meaning should not be dismissed, since the facts upon 
which political science focuses concern the actions ( les actions) of men. 

3. Here and elsewhere, the verb “form” is “ se faire," containing the root of “fait" 
(see note 2 above). One of the actions of men—in their public or governing as well as 
private capacity—is to theorize about human action; political science must therefore 
study itself. 

4. Tocqueville’s expression, “ avoir grand tort" is suggestive of both error and in¬ 

5. Tocqueville refers to the English Civil War, the French Revolution, the “Glo¬ 
rious” Revolution in England, and the July Revolution in France, respectively. 

6. The word “form,” used twice in this paragraph, translates “ donnent la forme aux ” 
and ‘ forment ,” respectively. 

7. Here Tocqueville omitted to read a portion of his speech, which is reproduced in 
the Appendix below. Four months earlier, Louis Napoleon had staged a successful coup 

8. “It is a great beginner-again.” 

9. “ L'ordre judiciaire" refers to courts in the normal order of procedure.